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Laura Keynes: Girls stripping to the waist to please boys. Blame the feminists for lad culture


If you want to know about ‘lad culture’, ask a teacher. Chatting to a teacher friend in the pub on Saturday evening, the conversation turned to sex education. My friend is the kind of sorted young teacher kids naturally confide in. What the kids are confiding is nothing short of terrifying.

“The boys all demand pictures of the girls on their phones,” my friend explained. “She has to text him a picture of herself naked, with his name written across her chest.”

“And girls comply?” I asked, incredulous. “Yes”, my friend confirmed. We shook our heads, baffled: “How does that happen?”

The question occurred to me again after reading Kate Maltby on lad culture at Oxford University.

Her piece was sparked by news that rape charges against Oxford Union president Ben Sullivan have been dropped. Sullivan is now free to give his story and, predictably, it involves tales of hard drinking lad culture in college and something called a ‘crew date’. In Maltby’s words, “The highest social honour for a young first-year girl at my college was to be invited on a ‘crew date’, a drinking session for a male sports team, at which a girl flattered into attending was plied with alcohol, and then ordered to dance or strip.”

Am I missing something? How is ‘No’ not the only response to this?

Maltby goes on to relate how she “complained to a tutor about something that happened to me at an undergraduate ‘bop’, the party held every Saturday night at my college bar.” The tutor’s response – as mine would be – was to query what a serious-minded young woman was doing there in the first place. Maltby’s reply? ‘No’ wasn’t really an option because “the bop was the centre of college life” and she’d be “a social pariah” for missing out: “How to explain that ‘making myself vulnerable’ and ‘making friends in college’ seemed to go hand in hand?”

I’ve sat on college committees. I know how much senior tutor hand-wringing goes on to ensure undergrads don’t feel like this. I know how much effort goes into creating other options so that bops aren’t the centre of college life, so that quieter students get the chance to meet like-minded souls, so that female students don’t feel pressurized to drink and make themselves vulnerable.

Yet despite this, female students continue to buy into lad culture. Why?

It’s tricky territory. Even asking the question invites vilification.

Any suggestion that both sexes take responsibility for the rise of lad culture is to invite the wrath of feminist orthodoxy with its cries of ‘victim blaming’.

I don’t think young women are ‘asking for it’ by buying into lad culture – ultimately the buck stops with men, who shouldn’t take advantage of any woman when she’s in a vulnerable position – but I do think it’s worth asking why young women are buying into lad culture in the first place. Why comply? Why aren’t young women developing the inner resources to resist such pressure?

Who sold young women the narrative that they have to engage in risky behaviour to be socially accepted?

There’s only one reason why feminist orthodoxy would bury this question under accusations of victim blaming, and that’s if it has something to fear from the answer.

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Laura Keynes
Laura Keynes
Dr Keynes is a Cambridge-based academic, writer and critic with two very young children. She writes for Standpoint magazine, the Catholic Herald and The Tablet. Find her on twitter @LMKeynes.

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